Saturday, April 13, 2024

One to Watch

At the Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau ceremony last month, there were no happier faces than chefs Romain and Adrien, whose restaurant Racines has gotten its first Michelin star in the 2024 Guide. I had the chance to dine at the place just a few months ago and this certainly came as no surprise, given how much I enjoyed the meal at this small bistro-style venue in the quiet Tai Ping Shan Street neighborhood in Sheung Wan. 

They may not fit the typical profile of what people thought of a Michelin-starred French Restaurant with spacious dining space with chandeliers and well-ironed clothed table – in fact most seatings at Racines were right by the counter with full view of the tight open kitchen that more resembled a neighborhood gastro-pub than a fine-dining establishment. I actually liked the cozy but vibrant vibe and it’s the cooking that did most of the talking. 

The 7-course Tasting Menu (called Plenitude) was served at dinner and done in unmistakable classic French style with most ingredients coming from that side of the world too. The loaf of sourdough was brought to us in a nice basket, still steamy hot from the kitchen. I love the crust and the hint of sweetness, and the smoked butter infused with espelette peppers. A few amuse-bouche bites were then served, with my favorite being the tartlet with prawn and seaweed jam – I like the nice contrast of flavor with a hint of acidity for balance. The Arugula croquette was great too, strong, rustic flavor and served hot -  that’s the perks of having the kitchen and pass right within arm’s length, literally. 

Our first course of Hokkaido Uni was amazingly complex, served with panna cotta prepared with clams from local market, then on top, sea urchins, clementine, croutons and beet. There’s a hint of ginger and kaffir lime for a bit of Thai influence and I like the play of different textures too.  Piece of smoked eel was served with duck foie gras terrine with nori and lentil salad underneath with Perigord black truffle vinaigrette on top. So you got this rich earthy flavor profile but in an elegant presentation. 

Britany Scallops was the main ingredient for the third course, seared and served with braised endives. The aged balsamic vinegar reduction provided the acidity to balance the slight bitterness of the endives with shaved black truffles on top added to the aroma. Then it’s the Monkfish fillet, poached and finished on a pan, and served with braised leek, soft coriander foam accented with curry, kumquat for the distinct sweetness, and oyster for the added sea flavor. 

The final savory course was duck. The whole roasted Burgaud duck breast was shown to us before being carved into individual portion to serve. The piece was brined with maple syrup and whisky finished with a jus reduction glaze infused with pine wood chips. On the side was the Brussels sprouts stuffed with duck leg meat and liver. The duck was perfectly done, and the accompaniments were rich and flavorful. 

Instead of the conventional cheese presentation to finish the meal with – the chefs decided to go for the more spectacularly route with a playful cheese course. The creamy and rich Tomme cheese (made with sheep milk) was melted and served in a small pot with persimmon and focaccia “Napolean” on the side. Dessert was cauliflower and caviar – that’s not a typo – with cauliflower custard, bergamot sorbet and ivory chocolate served in a bowl with generous portion of caviar spooned on top. Yes, they left us the whole can of caviar for us to go with the dessert. Strange as it may sound, but the combination of vegetal and smoky flavor with a hint of acidity and sweetness worked very well together. More goodies were brought to us at the end, with a few mignardises served in cute tin cans. 

The extraordinary menu came with the extraordinary wine pairing and some unusual but well-chosen selection, all from the old world, unsurprisingly. A small production grower rose champagne to start, it’s surprisingly rich with Pinor Noir and Meunier being the dominant types in the blend. The Rhone Valley white with a blend of local varietals (Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Roussane and Viognier) was perfect with the rich seafood courses with the hint of minerality and acidity, a pleasing floral aroma and an equally complex profile on the palate. 

It may sound after-the-fact to sing praises to this meal and the effort by the chefs and their kitchen team, but I admired how they turned food into magic in such tiny space right in front of us in an almost effortless manner. The place is a such fine breath of fresh air and certainly one to watch in the local dining scene with such no non-sense but flawless execution. 

(Meal was by invitation. More photos can be found here:

When? January 22 2024
Where? Racines, 22 Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan
Menu Highlights? Burgaud Duck, chestnut, quince, pine duck jus
Champagne Marteaux Guillaume Cuvee Fusion Brut Rose NV
2020 Domaine Henry Marionnet Vinifera Sauvignon AOC Touraine
2021 Chateau d’Aqueria Lirac Blanc
2020 Domaine Alain Chabanon Campredon AOC Terrasses du Larzac

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